Captain Enner Valencia extended his cult status in Ecuador to wider international acclaim with a first-half brace that propelled the South Americans to a comfortable 2-0 win over hosts Qatar in the opening game of the World Cup on Sunday.
The 33-year-old attacker, nicknamed Superman, increased his record tally of goals for Ecuador to 37 and also became the country’s highest-scoring player in the World Cup as his double at the Al Bayt Stadium added to the three he scored in 2014.
A 16th-minute penalty on Sunday, nonchalantly stroked into the corner of the goal, was followed by an accurate glancing header, propelled with power past the Qatari goalkeeper, in the 31st minute.
Valencia, the only player in the 2022 Ecuador squad from their last World Cup appearance eight years ago, might well have scored the quickest goal in the opening game of a World Cup when he had the ball in the back of the net in the third minute but it was ruled out for offside after a VAR check.
“He’s our greatest player. These goals today in the opening of a World Cup make him the best for all Ecuadoreans,” said Victor López, an 18-year-old fan from the city of Ibarra in north Ecuador watching the game on a giant screen in a shopping mall.
Valencia, who was taken off for the last 15 minutes of Sunday’s group A game, has had a decade-long career in the Ecuador side, starting off as a winger but being converted to a striker in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
He moved to West Ham United in a 12-million pound ($14.26 million) deal after the tournament in Brazil. After two seasons with the London side, he endured an uninspiring loan spell at Everton.
Valencia is now with Fenerbahce and in rich scoring form. His 13 league goals this season have put him top of the scoring charts in Turkey.
It was the fourth time in the last five World Cups that a player scored a double in the opening game of a tournament after Germany’s Miroslav Klose (2006), Neymar of Brazil (2014) and Russian striker Denis Cheryshev in 2018.